Monday, December 29, 2008

You say tomato, I say tomato

Yesterday, I was asked to fill in for an absent church member to read the fourth lesson at our annual service of lessons and carols. I, in turn, found another willing member from "the bench" (or should that be pew?) as I was reluctant to commit. I have to say that Maria, who is of Austrian birth, read the lesson beautifully, as did all the other readers.

The reason for my reluctance is that I am aware of my English, very English, pronunciation of Isaiah. I've always been used to saying "ai-ZIRE-uh" and it has always sounded strange when read in church here as "ai-ZAY-uh". Now I would be the last to say which is right or wrong - now there IS a novelty - and to be fair, our wonderful vicar, who is Canadian by birth, has always encouraged me to "be myself" when reading and indeed was quite happy for me to use my English pronunciation if I decided to read the lesson.

This lead to a discussion on the different ways we English pronounce, never mind spell, common words. As usual food played a significant part - in which the Americans got full marks for saying PAR-sta, it is Italian after all, while us English say PA-sta, emphasizing the short "a". I was reminded of my embarrassment when on my first visit here I ordered a fil-LET steak and emphasized the "t", as any Englishman would. I got the same reaction from the American server (and my American family) as I would have done if I ordered a cod or plaice fil-LAY in an English "chippy" (fish-'n'-chip shop)! Understandable from the American point of view as even the English don't say bal-LET, but bal-LAY.

To-MATE-toe I do say now rather than to-MAR-toe (probably the only American pronunciation Gail can't, or won't, say). Another great food example is AP-ricot as opposed to English APE-ricot.

Of the non-food differences there is, of course SKED-ule as opposed to SHED-ule (the American version does make sense, no one pronounces school "shool"). Syllable emphasizing is another part of the language that takes some getting use to. IN-surance as opposed to in-SUR-ance, warran-TEE against warran-TY and sem-EYE versus sem-EE, are examples that come to mind.

Thank goodness we do understand one another. Even if we do pick up the pronunciations of our new home and alter our spellings, we are still of English stock. As our very talented choir director tells me, "be proud of your heritage", just as she is of her Filipino roots.

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